by Marshall Jamison
The others who were there that day have answered their last page at the glorious old hotel. Your reporter, hopefully, will answer to several more.
To a New Englander born in downtown Boston over three quarters of a century ago, the ancient city grows more appealing in the heart of an old campaigner as the years follow each other in swift, but dwindling, procession.
So many memories; as a little fellow in Cambridge, hitching a ride on the horse-drawn sleigh that delivered blocks of ice to ancient neighborhood ice boxes. With my Dad and little brother seeing Charlie Devens pitch for Harvard with, I think, Herman Fink catching, “Rabbit” Maranville artfully displaying his patented vest pocket catch at old Braves Field in Alston, Clarence De Mar and Johnny Kelley making yet another great run over the Newton Hills to a downtown finish in the Boston Marathon, Evening at Pops, nostalgic rides on the Garden’s swan boats, Christmas caroling around the State House and on Beacon Hill.
Then, much later, opening nights at the Wilbur and Shubert theatres and after the reviews were digested, theatrical production meetings often late into the night and early mornings at the aforementioned Ritz Carlton.
One such meeting stays deep in my memory, its importance there reflected by those literary and theatrical giants present there that Fall day in 1951. They were gathered at the request of theatrical producer Leland Hayward after a matinee performance of his production of “Point of No Return,” a play by Paul Osborn based on a fictional work by the eminent Boston historian and storyteller, John P. Marquand. Henry Fonda headed a distinguished cast that included John Cromwell and Leora Dana. The sets and lighting were designed by multi-faceted Jo Meilziner and were conceived with his usual brilliance.
The play itself had received favorable notices at the hands of veteran Boston critics a few days before this meeting but in their search for theatrical perfection Hayward and Fonda felt a careful and thoughtful critique of the production would be helpful for all concerned. This, before the company moved on to Philadelphia and New York. To that end Leland suggested that Osborn, Marquand, Fonda and Meilziner meet with him with that in mind. Because the play had a strong New England flavor and Yankee appeal, he invited poet Robert Frost to join them. Frost had just seen the matinee performance that day. (Your correspondent was asked to keep notes, which sad to say, have disappeared over the years.)
Mr. Frost’s contribution was complimentary but, due to perhaps the consumption of a dry Martini or two, lacked any real critical comment. However, he proved a charming and fascinated listener to a number of decisions made that day about script changes, especially for the third act, and one important cast replacement.
Suffice to say that for that important part, a young and inexperienced but beautiful Grace Kelly was read, carefully considered and turned down. In spite of this show business heresy, the play survived its Philadelphia engagement well, opened in New York to excellent reviews and ran for a year at the Alvin Theatre, then toured successfully across the Country for another season. So for all concerned “Point of No Return” had a happy and most generous return.
And the Ritz Carlton still greets its guests with old world courtesy, an oasis for the traveler. Try it sometime.